Alan Goddard couldn’t help but laugh when he was invited to participate in the Montana Repertory Theatre’s midsummer writing workshop, the Colony, as a member of the Young Writers Weekend. Goddard is 73.
“Ain’t that just a kick in the pants?” he said during a recent interview. “That just floored me.”
What makes Goddard’s inclusion all the more amusing is that the former Butte community leader—he’s served on the Montana Arts Council, written for the Montana Standard and hosted his own local radio program, among other things—has a history of working in the arts. He’s written and performed theater in Virginia City. Until retiring to Missoula, he spent 15 years teaching drama in Jordan. And that’s not all—get Goddard going and he’ll recount the times he tutored in a Butte whorehouse, lived on a reservation in Wyoming and took peyote “before it was illegal.” A lot of this personal history is enveloped in Goddard’s workshop script, Sam Spade in Butte, a sprawling period piece that Goddard says “captures the native wit and spirit of the Butte people” in the face of a challenge.
We spoke to the “young” playwright on the eve of his Colony reading.
INDY: Montana Rep Artistic Director Greg Johnson described your play as an old-fashioned melodrama. Is that accurate?
GODDARD: Yeah, sure. It’s blood and thunder. I hope it’s slightly more narrative than that, but it’s full of surprises and twists and unexpected scenes. I hope after the second act you’re kind of hooked.
INDY: This isn’t the first play you’ve written?
GODDARD: Oh, no. For a while there I was a dramaturge at Virginia City. I don’t know how many plays I’ve written. A lot…And then, more recently, I was a teacher on the prairie in Jordan, Montana. I taught English, journalism, tap dancing, speech and drama. I translated Love and the Piano and we staged it in Jordan and it ended up placing first in a state theater competition. I did that for 15 years. People said I was hiding.
INDY: Were you?
GODDARD: No. I wanted to do something totally different. I had been very vocal and public in Butte. I hated it. Butte was exciting. Then the Anaconda Company imploded and [the town] was in shock. And I knew that one of the things that would kill Butte, too, would be [if it lost] its spirit, its tradition, its Butte chutzpah. So I wrote about that and talked about that.
Everybody had an opinion of what I thought, and it was usually the exact opposite. People were defining me in a way that was making me constantly uncomfortable. I was just a hippie. I started out as sort of a standing figure for the culture and ended up like a public monument with pigeons shitting on me.
INDY: That Butte spirit and tradition are a major part of your play. How did you come about writing the script?
GODDARD: I have a number of friends [who have become published authors since retiring]…and they challenged me—stop talking and get off your duff and write something. So I said, okay, and I went into my past.
At one time I was a tutor in a Butte whorehouse…
GODDARD: Really. I can go for color or I can talk about the play, whichever you prefer. I can go on as long as you like with stories…But click, click, click, spin, spin, spin, parts of the history started to come together and I saw a play.
INDY: How did your script end up in the Colony?
GODDARD: I sent it to Greg [Johnson] for comment, just as a friend. I didn’t know about the Colony. I hadn’t heard from Greg, nothing, for about a week and I thought there were three or four things I put in deliberately to make him call me up and say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I finally got a telephone call inviting me to the Colony, and I admire Greg’s work, so I thought, okay. Then I was told I am a promising young playwright, which I’ve been laughing about ever since.
INDY: Do you know what you’re in for?
INDY: What do you hope to get out of this experience?
GODDARD: Originally all I hoped for was a chance to hear it, which for me is key: Does it play? Will it reach into the minds of the audience? That’s what I hope to find.
INDY: Have you met the other young playwrights?
GODDARD: One. And she’s a really cute chick. She’s beautiful.
INDY: Do you think your experience gives you a leg up in the workshop?
GODDARD: Do you think this is unfair?
INDY: Not at all. It’s not a competition. But how does it change the dynamics?
GODDARD: Actually, because of the teacher thing, I feel like I can get to get back to that. I loved teaching. I miss it. It’s a real challenge to contact a young mind and I get to work with that again.
The Young Writers Weekend readings take place in the Montana Theatre of the University of Montana’s PARTV Center Saturday, June 30, at 3 and 8 PM. Alan Goddard’s Sam Spade in Butte will be read during the afternoon session. $5 afternoon readings/$10 evening.